The Only True Journal of Literature About Music
Shaking Like a Mountain is an online literary journal featuring writing about music. The journal is edited by Wayne Cresser, Vito Grippi, Jed Griswold, and John Hames, with contributing editors such as Amity Bitzel, Janice Eidus, Marion Winik, and others. Francesca Macchiavelli spoke with co-editor Vito Grippi.
Francesca Macchiavelli: How long have you been working with Shaking Like a Mountain?
Vito Grippi: We published the first issue in the summer of 2007. But the conception and planning began winter of 06/07. Things came together pretty quickly.
Macchiavelli: What are you trying to accomplish?
Grippi: Initially, our purpose is to provide a space for writers to display their work. Taking that further, we specialize in lit about music because we think such a large connection exists between the two artistic mediums—really just to add to the overall literary conversation, but specifically to highlight work that is somehow inspired by, or written as a reaction to music.
Macchiavelli: What drove you to create a new online literary journal?
Grippi: Mostly money, or the lack of it. Total cost to get started was something like $150. Now that the online part seems to be established, we are considering the possibility of releasing some print editions—maybe something like a year “best of” collection.
Macchiavelli: How do you decide what Shaking publishes?
Grippi: The publishing process at Shaking Like a Mountain, I think, is not too different from that of other journals. We have a group of readers that includes myself and my co-editor who read through submissions as they come in. We then add the submissions to a spread sheet and initial a corresponding “yes,” “no,” or “yes, but…” column. (I suppose this would be considered the slush pile.) At this point we’re really looking for a few things—primarily, whether or not they fit the journal. In other words, seeing if the author actually read the submissions guidelines and/or read the work on the journal itself. We get a lot of really beautiful work that does not connect with music in any way. Here we’re also looking to see if a piece moves us immediately. We want the piece to make us react.
After a piece makes it through the first round, it is then sent off to our group of contributing editors by genre. We have a group of poetry editors and a group of fiction editors that includes writers like Janice Eidus, Marion Winik, Crista Mastrangelo, Fred Shaw, among others. This group usually makes the final decision. There are instances where we like a piece that isn’t quite right, has a lot of potential. In those cases, we often ask the submitting authors if they are willing to revise and resubmit (they usually do). So, in some rare instances, a piece may go through multiple revisions and submits before we accept it. Overall we try to keep the process as democratic as possible, because art, as it should, affects people differently.
Macchiavelli: What do you look for in prospective pieces?
Grippi: I’ll start with the blog or nonfiction work that appears on the journal. These are often assigned to someone in our trusted group of writers, or in some cases pitched to us. Initially we’re looking for work that somehow balances relevancy (the music angle) and literature. We look for pieces that are well written, fun, and add to the conversation of music, literature, and art.
For fiction and poetry, what we look for is not that much different. We want pieces that are, first and foremost, good. We want them to stand on their own as a piece of writing. Then they have to have a connection to music. Our guidelines on that end are pretty loose. Mostly we look for something that takes chances and isn’t too obvious. Too many poems try to be about something that is automatically supposed to be cool, like jazz. We don’t need any more poems about Miles Davis.
Macchiavelli: So, what don’t you look for in prospective pieces?
Grippi: We try to stay away from fluff pieces and pieces where the writer appears too self indulgent. This tends to be difficult at times, especially for writers working in memoir and that sort of thing. We try to stay away from things that try so hard to be cool or cutting edge that they forget to be good. For instance, if you give us a poem where the lines create the shape of a musical instrument, it better be a really good poem.
Macchiavelli: What type/genre of pieces do you tend to publish most?
Grippi: We probably publish more poetry than anything else. This is probably because we receive more poetry submissions than any other genre. That said, we have been receiving much more fiction lately, and that makes us happy.
Macchiavelli: Which of your authors do you think reflects Shaking the most?
Grippi: Pablo Medina’s “Cubop City” really blew us away. It’s one of those that we’re really happy to have published. It’s a fictionalized account of the murder of Latin jazz percussionist, Chano Pozo. It’s just filled with magic and beautiful language and images.
There’s also another great story, “Killer Heart,” by William Orem that really works. It’s the story of an aging bassist who’s carrying on a relationship with the 17-year-old rising start that fronts his band.
As for poetry, it’s the ones that don’t try too hard to be about music or musicians that I think really succeed. We get a lot of poetry that name drops jazz greats and such, but that’s not really what we’re about. The musical inspiration can be a very minimal part of it. The hope is that music sparks something that then causes a writer to create more music. That’s what poetry really is in the end: music. That said, Lisa Mednick-Powell’s “Ooh La La” is pretty great, Fred Shaw’s “Turntable Generation,” Dave Wanzynck’s “Fortunate Sons.” They’re all great.
Macchiavelli: Do you target a certain audience?
Grippi: Our audience is all over the map. Really, we’re looking to reach people who are interested in literature, people interested in music, and those interested in the combination of those two things. I suppose that could really be anyone. More specifically though, we’d like to reach people interested in interacting with the work. Part of the beauty in publishing online is that a reader can offer an immediate reaction to what they’ve just read. That reaction is read by other readers and the writer, and, hopefully, some sort of meaningful discussion can occur. There is something really cool happening there.
Macchiavelli: What do you want readers to get overall from Shaking?
Grippi: I want readers to know that there is a space where both music and literature come together in an interesting way. We hope it prompts readers to want to write (or listen to) certain pieces of music or certain musicians—or both.
Macchiavelli: What do you get from the journal?
Grippi: The gratification of knowing that we’re responsible for putting another piece of art into the world. I also love to come across names of people we’ve published in other journals. You always feel like you played a part in that person’s career in some small way.
Mostly, though, it’s a love of literature and music and being able to witness the convergence of the two, and then release that product or offspring into the wild.
Macchiavelli: Do you have any advice for authors?
Grippi: Read everything you can get your hands on, write constantly, get to know the work in the journals you want to publish in—and read the submissions guidelines. There is nothing worse than turning down a great piece because a writer has just sent it to the wrong place.